Metrolinx Marries GO, Dumps Pesky Politicians

Today the Government of Ontario announced that GO Transit and Metrolinx would be merged together in one agency.  Some sort of takeover was contemplated in the original Metrolinx legislation which proposed that GO become a division of Metrolinx, but this part of the bill was never proclaimed.

Since last fall when the Regional Transportation Plan emerged, some at Metrolinx have spoken darkly, and usually privately, about how the politicians are getting in the way of accomplishing Metrolinx’ manifest destiny.  Not long ago, a report on the innocent matter of cross-border fare integration showed Metrolinx’ staff’s true colours and their hunger for power over local transit agencies.  Now Queen’s Park has stepped in.

This is hardly a shotgun marriage, but it came as a big surprise to the local politicians who make up the current Metrolinx board.  This group has been accused of being dysfunctional and obstructionist when in fact anyone who actually watches the board at work sees a truly collegial group of senior politicians who are trying to do the right thing both for their own cities and for the region as a whole.  The 416-vs-905 dynamic everyone thought might doom Metrolinx never developed.

Problems lay, however, in Metrolinx staff and its Chair, Rob MaacIsaac.  Although the agency professed to want as much public input as possible, this was stage managed to produce feel-good support for Metrolinx work, and dissent was actively discouraged.  When the Board asked for a few extra months to fine-tune the RTP, a process that anyone who saw early drafts will know made a huge improvement to the final product, they were seen as delaying progress even though the plan did come out on time.

If anything, the foot-dragging lies at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa, neither of which has shown much love for actually paying for transit projects.  Lots of promises, but no money.  Indeed, the whole concept of multi-party funding schemes is a guarantee of inaction.

What will be the effect of this merger?  In the short term, many things are unknown, but there is good reason to worry that Queen’s Park may actually have derailed the very agency that was on the verge of building a regional network.

The New Board

There will be a Transition Advisory Board and eventually a formally constituted first Board of the new Metrolinx.  The legislation explicitly forbids a politician or an employee of a local municipality from sitting on the Board.

The Advisory Board includes

  • Rob MacIsaac and Peter Smith, chairs of Metrolinx and GO respectively,
  • Paul Bedford, former Chief Planner for the City of Toronto and Metrolinx Board member,
  • Stephen Smith, Vice-Chair of GO Transit
  • Jennifer Babe and Lee Parsons, members of the GO Board,
  • Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation,
  • Tony Gagliano of St. Joseph’s Communications,
  • Rose Patten of BMO Financial Group,
  • Nicolas Mutton of Four Seasons Hotels,
  • Elyse Allan of GE Canada, and formerly head of the Toronto Board of Trade,
  • Robert Pritchard of TorStar, and formerly of the University of Toronto.

Robert Pritchard has the special title ot “Transition Advisor”, although I could not help wondering whether it’s more one of marriage broker, someone who will find a way to get the two organizations living under one roof.

Only five of fifteen are sitting members of GO or Metrolinx, and transit experience is not thick among their resumés.  No doubt they are all experts in their own field, but I can’t help wondering how long it will take them to digest the Regional Plan and understand how it works.  If they are particularly clever, they will see its faults including problems with financing, the sequencing and cost of projects and the lack of integration with local transit systems.  Would the new board start to second guess the plan, or will they be expected to leave it untouched?  What is their real job?

The new board is directed by legislation to discuss certain things in public meetings, as well as anything else it feels like exposing to view.  The old Metrolinx was secretive enough, and I doubt a board consisting of “private sector” representatives will like to conduct its work under glass.  The board meets in public:

  • On any occasion it determines,
  • When the board is adoping or amending a regional transportatioj plan,
  • When the board is considering approval of an investment strategy,
  • When the corporation’s annual report is presented,
  • When the corporation is considering a by-law to change the fares charged on its system.

Notable by their absence are requirements to actually discuss the investment strategy or anything to do with capital planning and projects, or the Metrolinx budget in public.  This is a change from the previous Metrolinx legislation [See Greater Toronto Transportation Act S11(3)].

The new Metrolinx is charged with producing an Investment Strategy, including possible new revenue tools, before June 1, 2013, but conveniently beyond the next Provincial election.  The current board, worried about its ability to actually fund the great scheme, was on the verge of launching such a discussion this year, but such rash behaviour doesn’t fit with today’s economic and political climate.

Although today’s statement to the House by the Hon. Jim Bradley, Minister of Transportation, claimed that the new agency would be required to consult with local municipalities, it is unclear from the legislation just how much actual discussion or input the locals will have in decisions taken at the regional agency.

Who Owns the Projects?

The new Metrolinx is charged with building, or causing to be built, the lines in the Regional Plan.  Moreover, Metrolinx will own any new assets it builds and will treat them as capital property including depreciation.  This may seem like a nice bit of accounting, but it will place the ongoing cost of debt servicing and eventual capital repayment in full view.  Or it would if the agency had to discuss its budget in public.

If Metrolinx also becomes a revenue generating agency either through dedicated streams such as tolls or regional taxes, or through ongoing grants, the question remains whether it will attempt to place some of that capital burden on the customers of its system.  There’s no reason to suspect this is the case today, but the secrecy about budgeting makes it impossible to know in the future how money is flowing through the Metrolinx accounts.

The ownership issue raises thorny questions about the future of “local” projects like Transit City, the subway extensions, and many other projects that were developed and sponsored at the municipal level.  Will the cities continue to fund and manage development of these schemes, or will Metrolinx appropriate them to the regional level?  Have we lost all of the momentum, all the experience of teaching politicians, professionals, the media and the general public about LRT, about forms of transit that don’t cost the earth to build, extend and maintain?

Will the municipalities even be able to launch studies into schemes that are not blessed by inclusion in the RTP?  How do we integrate discussions of changes such as an earlier build of the Downtown Relief line?  Where do the TTC’s add-ons such as the Bloor-Yonge reconstruction and the need for a much larger subway fleet sit in?

What happens to major funding requirements for local operations and capital?  Metrolinx was just starting to grapple with these issues, a major point for all of the regional politicians who have now been dispatched from the board table.

When the TTC selects a vendor for new streetcars in April, who will pay for them, indeed, will the TTC even be allowed to make such a decision?

Will Metrolinx with its resolutely regional outlook on transit even understand how Transit City and other proposals address fine-grained local demands and planning goals?  Will the desire to get to the airport quickly from Pickering take precedent over supporting medium density land use on Eglinton Avenue?

The legislation contains many references to agreements with municipalities either for the provision of transit services by Metrolinx, or commercial arrangements with municipalities to build and operate parts of the regional network.  However, the political question is whether the municipalities have lost the ability to determine the character of the components of that network.  The regional plan is only lines on a map, some without even a definitive choice of technology, much less implementation specifics such as station location and alignment.  Who directs the detailed design?


Where, exactly, the new Metrolinx is headed won’t be clear for a few weeks at least until its new Board has a chance to meet and we get a sense of how involved, if at all, the public will be in the process of reshaping the combined entity.

Both partners bring less than stellar records of sensitivity to public criticism, and this really has to change.  Calling everyone who doesn’t agree with every detail of a plan a NIMBY and working to discredit them is unworthy of a public agency.  If a plan is good, it stands on its own, and can benefit from constructive criticism.

Plans are treated as if they were carved in the stones of Queen’s Park when, in fact, they are only a collection of lines on a map.  The Premier’s MoveOntario 2020 announcement was little more than a compendium of every then-extant local transit proposal, many of them with flaws that needed changing for a truly regional plan.  That’s what Metrolinx was about.  In turn, the Metrolinx plan needs fine tuning, but the plan overall is not so delicate that it cannot survive.

Even though Metrolinx is a regional agency, many of its proposed services are local in nature.  GO itself will evolve beyond recognition once it operates frequent, all day, two way service on its major corridors.  Neither Metrolinx nor GO shows much interest in local, off-peak, and non-core-oriented services, but these will be essential to the success of the regional network.

If the new Metrolinx chooses to meet mainly in private, to become a little club for people with some but not much actual knowledge of the region and its transit needs, to enter into contracts without benefit of public scrutiny, then we will have made a huge step backwards.  The new Metrolinx has a chance to engage the public, and it should do so, meaningfully, at every opportunity.

23 thoughts on “Metrolinx Marries GO, Dumps Pesky Politicians

  1. This news is quite interesting and a bit of a surprise – it just seems to me that the Provincial Government wants to give GO and Metrolinx the muscle to take on the TTC which is still the largest agency in Canada.

    This will be an interesting battle to say the least as the new MetroGO or GOMetro (or whatever) enters the fray with lots of ideas and momentum and provincial backing for plans that, as you pointed out, may be incomplete, lacking detail, or just poorly planned.

    The TTC will continue to push on with its “local, local, local” focus – but there are areas (inner suburbs) where the TTC itself could expand services and reach more people and do it better than the local operators could.

    Will the TTC come out fighting? A certain Admiral told me (when I met him in Kuala Lumpur 2 weeks ago) that he would like to bury (sink?) Metrolinx.

    Will that be the case – or will TTC and GOMetro manage to find a happy compromise? What will happen to public transport without the input of elected, semi-accountable councillors?

    And above all, what happens to transit users when the elephants tussle?

    Cheers, Moaz

    from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


  2. Why is it that transit promoters or users or internet bloggers, like let say Steve Munro, does not get on transit boards? Do they have to be a friend of a friend to get on them?

    Steve: We ask annoying questions and expect proponents of schemes to actually understand what they are talking about rather than just promoting flavour of the week “solutions”.

    The sad part is that people like me really want to improve transit, but we’re not part of any political “old boys club”.

    When there is an avenue for public input, we can be useful in fostering debate. Everyone doesn’t agree with me and I don’t expect them to, but I think this blog has fostered more substantive debate and proposals than much of the official process sponsored by Metrolinx. If they turn inwards, hold all their meetings in private, and award projects to private partners with no opportunity for public discussion, they will do us all a disservice.

    It is not the municipal politicians who are holding up progress, and the alleged reasons for this reorganization ring hollow. I will post separately on this later in the week as the dust settles.


  3. The paper I read this morning reported the ON government thought having local polticians on the Metrolinx board slowed things down, so it would be best to remove them. Although transit agencies across the GTHA don’t have elected polticians running them, they do have them providing oversight and bugetary approval, and the same should be true of a regional transit agency.

    There should be a difference here between an executive board (who decide how to run things, and should consist of appointed people with those skills), and a supervisory board (who provide budgetary aproval, and should contain representatives from local and provincial goverments). The latter should have their meetings made public.

    Given fares form part of the budget, I don’t see why fare increases should be approved seperately. I also wish people would not complain endlessly about annual transit fare increases, unless they truely believe all staff employed by the transit agency should have their pay frozen (and inflation be damned).


  4. So not a single representative from any municipality? Not a single transit planner in the board. And we are supposed to trust this agency to do our transit planning for the future?

    Steve: Paul Bedford is the former Chief Planner for Toronto, but that’s the closest you get. The work will all be done by staff in private, and approved by the board in private. After a few years and a few scandals, there may be pressure for change, but meanwhile we have lost a valuable if flawed mechanism for public participation in the development of our region.

    I don’t trust Metrolinx staff to do a good job because what they have produced to date is superficial, lines on a map and some background, but not the level of detail needed to actually build and run a network.


  5. I’m just curious if the “GO” branding lives on when the dust eventually settles. Is GO now Metrolinx, is Metrolinx now GO, or are they both now something entirely different?

    Steve: According to the legislation, the corporate name is Metrolinx, but who knows what name they will operate services under. This gets messy not just for GO, but for any services operated on their behalf by other agencies like the TTC or York Region.

    The real irony is that GO emphasis the Provincial control while Metrolinx implies a regional agency, just at the point where local input to the organization is clearly in Provincial hands.


  6. Perhaps just when things are starting to get politically awkward they would prefer to remove the Government of Ontario tag from the product. “Don’t blame The G.O., it’s Metrolinx!” in a phony attempt at making the organization seem at arms length. I wouldn’t blame them for a desire to distance themselves from PPP’s, road tolls, taxes, 50-year-old diesel rail cars, fare increases and lousy service. Got a fake BRT stuck in traffic instead of a classy LRT? “Go blame the expert planners.” How ’bout when the regional fare card becomes the next MFP scandal? “Gotta fulfill our contractual obligations to the private sector.”

    Unfortunately with the planning secrecy I’m going to have to wait an awfully long time to figure out who to blame what on. I’m sure the residents around West Toronto Junction going out of their mind from the pile driving would like to get their hands around the throats of the folks at SNC Lavalin and their Fed buddies, but instead are directed to strangle GO. Or is that Metrolinx… who really knows any more.


  7. With the changes to the Board, are we going to see a re-organization of the order of projects? If so, what projects do you see moving up and down the list?


  8. I strongly suspect that Prichard is one of those fair-haired boys who appear all groomed for success but inexplicably the organizations they lead become increasingly dysfunctional.

    Sometimes it takes only one gig for everyone to realize the fair-haired boy is not a compentent leader. Sometimes this doesn’t sink in even after a few failures. (And yes, I was at U of T in the early ’90s.)


  9. This whole thing sounds wrong. Why was metrolinx created to begin with? GO was and is continuing to plan expansion projects…so lets create an entirely new organization to make plans, then once they’ve done a first draft lets give them control of an organization that has been planning, building, operating and maintaining for 40 years and has done a pretty good job at it…what could go wrong?

    I think that in 4 years we will realilze that we have been shuffling chairs for so long that we forgot to build anything … how long will it take for Metrolinx to get a handle on operating the GO operations? How long will it take for the GO people to take a look at the first draft and realize that it was written by people with no experience building or operating a system? How long will it take to redo it? How long will it take for the infighting to begin between the people who wrote the first draft and the people who have to fix it? How long will it take for them all to realize that they forgot to ask the public what they want? How long will it take for the public to realize that what is being built doesn’t make sense, and then how long will it take for the politicians to re-exert control over the process?

    I feel like this whole situation could have been fixed a lot easier by giving GO a few more powers (fare unification, regional planning, full control of all rail (including subway)), rather than creating a whole new organization to gobble up GO and all the associated havoc it will create there.

    It’s almost like if McDonalds when they want to create a new burger decide to start a new company and then once the burger is created the new company takes over the entire operation of McDonalds under a new structure … it really doesn’t make any sense to me.


  10. I never understood why there had to be a merger between GO and Metrolinx in the first place. GO operates transit services (albeit with a lot of it contracted out) whereas Metrolinx was supposed to be a planning agency.


  11. What is disturbing, is that the average commuter believes that Metrolinx is going to improve transit. They are in for a rude awakening.


  12. This is just what we need another monolithic crown agency that passes decrees without input or consultation from the public. Answerable to no one but the government of the day and thusly filled with party hacks that are being rewarded for faithful service. Could we call it Ontario Hydro Part II?

    I did notice that the board does seem to have many members of the previous GO Transit board. Steve you did say previously that it wouldn’t so much be Metrolynx taking over GO as GO taking over Metrolynx!


  13. According to the premier this change is supposed to get things going.

    However the Legislation has to be rumber-stamped (excuse me, passed) in the Legislature first. Thus the new board has to wait to get legal authority to do anything.

    The new board members have to be briefed on what’s going on unless the plan is that they just rubber-stamp what the Premier’s Office wants done first. (As pointed out in the post there are only a few on the board with any transit experience and some of those were on the GO Board only. )

    It doesn’t matter who is on the board if there is no money to pay for projects. Queen’s Park controls the purse strings as they did before. Since they are apponting the board it is now their entity-100%. There is no cover of having the local mayors and regional chairs as the board members. Is Queen’s Park likely to approve a decision to impose road tolls on the 400 & 401 to bring in more revenue? Not likley, after taking flak for harmonizing the sales taxes.


  14. Aren’t you all overlooking the fact that politically difficult decisions such as road tolls will now be easier and more likely to happen now that politicians aren’t on it?

    As for the change itself, blame Miller and Giambrone. They should have been kicked off Metrolinx (and into orbit), but not the others. Hazel was fairly objective, but Miller and Giambrone’s games were getting tiring …

    a) Sheppard LRT going first — total political BS — this line is simply not a priority
    b) Opposition to a regional line on Eglinton when the model could have gone either way (local with LRT or regional with ART)
    c) All the strings to the Yonge extension — why didn’t they mention this before?

    I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the vote to push the DRL ahead of the Yonge extension. It’s almost as if Toronto got jealous that York Region was getting subways and finally wanted in too. Too late — they played their cards wrong (as they always do), and this is the result.

    Steve: The strings on the Yonge extension may seem excessive, but it was TTC staff who raised the whole issue of handling extra demand on the line and floated the madness of the Bloor-Yonge station reconstruction. That scheme, not to mention the extra trains to run more service on the line, were NOT included in the Metrolinx budget or project list.

    Metrolinx for its part completely failed in that they only looked at end point demands assuming much extra capacity, including the DRL and very frequent service on the Richmond Hill GO line. They didn’t look at project staging or the effect of building only a subset of the network. This is the most basic planning requirement, and Metrolinx blew it by not engaging in some real-world projections. It was clear well before the RTP was published that the cost of the network was growing beyone original estimates, and the revenue to pay for it was unlikely to appear out of the sky.

    As for tolls, it was the Premier whose office didn’t want any discussion of revenue tools before the next election, hence a 2013 target date for a report on proposals. The Metrolinx board pushed for a discussion of that issue this year, and for their troubles — actually wanting to bring an important debate out into the open — have been dumped.


  15. S.S.D.D. = Same Stuff Different Derailment. When will politicians, leaders, boards realize that shuffling chairs, renaming, merging is all just a way to do nothing. Inaction is the cause of the problems we have today. Sadly, this is not likely to change. With each passing year, we fall further and further behind the rest of the world cities in transit infrastructure.


  16. I believe that very few people in or outside of Toronto have an actual grasp of who runs their buses and where the money comes and goes from, which is a real problem. If you were to tell a Torontonian that their token didn’t actually cover the cost of their ride, many wouldn’t believe you, which is part of the reason why a lot of people don’t see the politics behind transit.


  17. I haven’t been at nearly as many former Metrolinx board meetings as Steve has been, but I would echo his appreciation that the now-former Board was doing a pretty darned good job of avoiding being too parochial or mywardopic.

    While the climate carisis needs somewhat draconian action, I’m not sure there’s much progress here, and we will still have problems, perhaps from doing a few projects that cost too much without enough quality transit resulting.

    And one area of missing transit is something between the GO longer-haul and the milk run of the TTC transit.

    Thanks for watching all of this Steve, and writing it up.


  18. Ironically, reason for expelling the politicians from is the exact opposite of that which could have been predicted when the board was set up. The Ontario Government probably thought the the local politicians would be so busy fighting with each other that the appointees could push through whatever the Ontario Government wanted with zero resistance, but with the appearance of due process.

    When this proved not to be the case it was time for plan B.


  19. Metrolinx whose in charge with prioritizing transit infrastructure projects that’s being paid for by the province is now merging with GO,… GO is now metrolinx whose in charge of prioritizing transit infrastructure projects. Where does that leave the TTC and other local transit services? Well,… I guess we shouldn’t expect any real improvement to the TTC or any other local transit services for quite a while,… Oh well, it’s spring,… good time to shop for a new car anyways,…..


  20. This development regarding Metrolinx does sound strange to some extent — but not wholly unexpected given some of the factors involved. My guess is this is not what the province initially wanted to happen. Maybe, I’m being naive, but my sense the original board was established in good faith as a viable effort to sort through various local interests and build a strategy that made sense for the whole GTA. It’s also likely that the province did not have a good sense at the start of how ‘diverse’ or distinct some of the agendas or desired approaches put forth were likely to be. This looks like a face-saving move… primarily for the province, which wants to be seen as doing something, is worried that the public is seeing things just dragging on, and is afraid that Metrolinx’s original structure will not be able to sort through some of the local tensions in a timely enough manner (ie to give McGuinty a boost in the next election).

    I’m not saying this is a good development… just somewhat understandable.


  21. Kristian Says:
    March 31st, 2009 at 11:38 am

    “ I wouldn’t blame them for a desire to distance themselves from PPP’s, road tolls, taxes, 50-year-old diesel rail cars, fare increases and lousy service.”

    The last ones VIA has were built in 1958, most are closer to 60 than 50. The body structures are sound are as good as any new equipment built to the ridiculous style for mainline North American Passenger service. The design is very slow to load and unload and is not handicap friendly. The Bombardier bi-levels are apparently the only cars that meet the new US ADA requirements. If the line is successful the 22 is going to refer to the time to load and unload them. A consultant for the GO expansion said that he had seen an artists rendering of them with a double width high platform sliding centre door. That makes sense and is do-able at the airport but there is not any room at Union for a dedicated high platform for a one car train that runs every 15 minutes.

    Now as to “Why was MetroLynx created?” I believe that the Liberals think that it will give the appearance that they are taking decisive action, are transit friendly and are doing something now. Remember that TATOA and GO Transit were creations of Bill Davis and His Tories. McGuinty wants or needs some thing that is his creation, not a carry over from the Red Tories.

    Name Change: I detest the term LYNX. It is in a number of areas in the US. Orlando has the LYNX and the bus stops are pastel coloured LYNX paws, different colours for different routes. Please not here.

    Now that Steve is retired he will have even more time to keep the powers that be on their toes.

    Take care and happy retirement


  22. Steve:

    I am not sure if you want this here or to start a new thread given today’s announcement by GO.

    Steve: I will start a new thread on the announcement re the Weston Sub.


    Transit Toronto’s web site has a link to GO transit’ GO 2020 plan for expansion of service and it makes interesting reading. GO recognizes the need get more people to their stations by means other than driving and parking. They state that the number of people who take transit has remained static because the transit service to their stations has remained static for a number of years. In Brampton I know that the 4 dedicated shuttles to Brampton and Bramalea stations have been dropped but there are a lot of regular buses that stop at those two stations and at Mt. Pleasant. Georgetown does not have public transit except for GO.

    GO recognizes the need to change the zoning and land use to make public transit an effective alternative to the private auto. It is successful at hauling people to Union station because most of them work within 2 km of Union and can get there via the PATH system without having to worry about weather. The 407 express bus service is successful because it mainly serves universities and colleges which are concentrated destinations where passengers have an easy walk to their final destination. They also state that they may look at separating the cost of parking from the ticket cost at selected stations. It is interesting to look at the revenue to cost ratio for the major commuter systems in North America. GO is between 85 and 90 % while the next best, Metro North New York is just above 60 %. There are two or three about 50 % and the rest are all below 50% (page 24 of their .pdf or page 20 by their numbering.)

    Over 95% of the trains riders and 65% of the bus riders have downtown Toronto as the primary destination. This may be why GO wants to run both express and locals into Union in the rush hour. It provides faster service for the patrons and makes more efficient use of equipment. Around 80% of train riders and 60% of bus riders are discretionary riders; they have a car and could drive if they wanted to. Some train stations have 20% of the riders arrive by public transit; GO wants to increase that number to 35%. They want to get peak service to at least every 15 minutes and off peak or reverse direction to every 30 minutes. If there are more than 4 trains per hour then they want to run express and local service for faster travel time and better equipment utilization.

    They are looking at electrifying the Lakeshore and possibly Georgetown, at least to Mt Pleasant, if it is cost effective. They are also willing to look at other technologies including self propelled trains that run on diesel fuel or electricity. I finally think that GO may have its act together and Metrolinx takes them over. I am off to the Georgetown South Service Extension, Blue 22, open houses next week and will let you know what they have to say.

    Steve: The interesting thing about the GO Transit plan is that it is not entirely in sync with the Metrolinx RTP, but came out after that plan was published. We can see here that the two agencies don’t entirely see eye-to-eye. The fascinating part about the merger will be to see which “culture” survives (my bet is on GO) and how cavalier the new Metrolinx is about sticking to the regional “plan” considering it has already been modified by government announcement.

    The issue of local feeder service to GO stations has been discussed here at length, and it is a problem Metrolinx needs to deal with sooner rather than later. It’s all part of funding local transit, something the old Metrolinx wanted nothing to do with. This was a major flaw in their plan. “Mobility Hubs” look great in the pictures, but they depend on local services connecting there.


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